I do not immediately think of Gwen Stefani when it comes to the significance of the bindi. But I do instantly think of her as one of the most recognizable images of the iconic dot’s status as a fashion accessory in America. This “dot” since ancient times has represented the Southeast Asian belief that the bindi, marked just above the inner corners of the eyes, actualizes the place of third eye, or sense of prosperity. It symbolizes energy and remarkable perception.
I mentioned Stefani because even without an intense scholarly understanding of the bindi, it’s easy to comprehend what it represents at first sight. And the lead singer of No Doubt brought the bindi to the attention of America’s youth and mainstream fashion in the 1990s during her band’s extremely successful Tragic Kingdom era.
She was inspired to wear it because of bandmate Tony Kanal‘s mother, as his parents were practicing Hindus, originally from India. But her (unintentional) appropriation of the bindi was always certified when she wore as it as a red dot, or jeweled, at award shows and in videos and she has never publicly declared any personal connections to the Hindu spirit (.
In this case, she’s targeted as the de facto example, but other (White) female celebrities have also used India for their of-the-moment beauty trips too. In the then-eighteen years since “Just A Girl” was a MTV hit, Selena Gomez also went through her own self-described “glam tribal” (*cringe*) phase. In promotion of her 2013 single “Come & Get It.” Almost every time she performed it, her forehead and above her eyebrows were bedazzled with bindi references. She too eventually stopped wearing any variation of it by the time she moved to the next song. But disciples of the Southeast culture however, have continued to honor this tradition of Hindu yore.
As a non-practicing Hindu and not of Southeast Asian descent or culture, I aesthetically understand the appeal of the bindi. Already a nod to the divine thoughts of a higher power, when kicked up with gems, it’s a cooler version of a bulky crown. I have felt the urge to rock a bindi. It just simply looks so very cool. But I know I have yet to obtain any personal ties to it beyond popular culture. And seeing an actual Indian or Nepalese woman wear a bindi in person has a much more of profound effect than “the dot” being worn by a kittenish pop star.
In 2015, the crusade against the appropriation of the bindi, just in time for Coachella season, commenced with Reclaim The Bindi, a page on Tumblr, having had enough of the bindi used as a beauty accessory. Like how pro-Black and pro-Africana individuals before, who went hard against the appropriation of hip-hop and characteristics of the Black female body; those with ties to Southeast Asia spoke up against too many bindi-wearing, cultural tourists. As V.Point commented, the bindi became one of the “biggest casualties of Hippie Hipster chic, and yet it’s one hardly spoken about.”
Many congregated on Twitter with the hashtag and selfies, but the movement remained on underground status despite many women identifying with it online.
#ReclaimTheBindi definitely brought into the question the conundrum of when liking worldly attributes or customs transport from genuine appreciations to stealing it and behaving like a vulture. Like the bindi, the headdresses of the Native Americans have been used off and on in fashion for an outre touch. I for one find the headdress undeniably beautiful. And I feel I connect to it on the levels that it is colorful, big, and a statement against assimilation of the White American or White European standard, or any status quo for that matter. Yet, if I was to wear as a Black-Afro-Latina-American woman, would I being appropriating it or spreading the word of the original founders of America?
Because the bindi is a lot more inconspicuous, maybe that is why it’s been one of more international customs consistently appropriated.
The #ReclaimTheBindi movement could’ve used more of a media push. But the very people it was trying to bring together did greatly respond. And the best part worth mentioning is that a majority of Twitter users and Tumblr followers were of young Southeast Asian women. Born and raised in America, they showed that they were not detached from their “over there” ancestry.